How the Nilgiri natives coped with the Spring heat

Dharmalingam Venugopal

As Nilgiris real under heat and dust and acute water shortage, it may be useful to recall how the natives managed situation in the distant past. Besege, meaning surging heat , denotes the period between February and April in the local parlance. The period was so dry that a proverb states cynically, ‘If there is drop of rain in February-March, there will be no rain for six months’.

The Todas, Badagas and Kotas were well aware of the seasonal extremities and adopted themselves to the situation. The worst consequence of the heat was the drying up of the grasslands leaving the cattle without fodder. But the natives did not try to divert the streams or springs into the grasslands. Nor did they try to sink wells.

Adopting to climatic changes, they established emmaties (buffalo hamlets) on the slopes of the Nilgiris where, sheltered from the monsoon, grazing was temporarily available. Leaving the women and children in the villages, the men will drive the cattle to the emmaties and camp there for three months till the rains arrive. A 1871 survey map gives a list of such emmaties as ‘cattle pen’.  Most of such camping sites were abandoned by the early 20th century when the dependence of cattle declined.

The administration would do well to consider a temporary shutdown for hotels and other lodging places for a month or two so that the local population could adopt to the sweltering heat as best as they could. It will also help the administration to manage the summer rush which follows the heat.



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